We still haven’t quite figured out how to accurately and completely represent fiber and broadband coverage in the United States. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been trying to do so since 2000, when it first launched its public filing requirements to identify underserved areas with the Fixed Broadband Deployment Data Form 477.
This data collection standard attempted to gather required broadband deployment data such as served speeds by Census block. While form revisions in 2013 and 2020’s Broadband DATA Act attempted to make this reporting more granular, the FCC Form 477 framework still underrepresented rural areas and was often inaccurate. The FCC’s newest standard, the Broadband Data Collection Effort (BDC) aims to make more effort in this area. The second BDC was just completed on March 1, after a sort of trial run of the system between September – December 2022.
Under the BDC, all facilities-based broadband providers are required to specifically identify and report where services are offered to residential and business locations. It requires biannual submission of subscription, availability and supporting data.
The biggest difference between Form 477 and BDC? The level of detail required in the reporting, and therefore the level of complexity of the filing. In addition to providing speed and latency data, all facilities-based broadband providers must submit detailed information on serviceable locations:
- Fixed wireline and satellite broadband service providers must submit either polygon shapefiles depicting the locations served or a list of locations.
- Fixed wireless broadband service providers must submit either propagation maps and propagation model details or a list of locations.
- Mobile wireless broadband service providers must submit propagation maps and propagation model details for each network technology and for both outdoor stationary and in-vehicle mobile network coverage. Mobile wireless broadband service providers must also submit signal strength “heat map” data.
The BDC also requires submissions to be certified accurate by a corporate officer and a qualified engineer, and failure to include certifications is subject to FCC enforcement penalties and fines.
Despite its efforts to address previous shortcomings, the BDC still has one major drawback: it relies on public citizen validation (in the form of challenges) to fully achieve accuracy. This is problematic in areas like New York, which has submitted more than 31,000 missing, unserved or underserved address locations to the FCC.
The fact is, there isn’t one single source of truth when it comes to mapping out broadband availability. To navigate the landscape with any degree of accuracy, providers need to not only master the FCC’s BDC data collection guide but also need to have a thorough understanding of the problems—and advantages—to multiple data sources in the field including tools like FiberLocator.